strawberry shrub

i’ve been back from holiday for a few days and i have to confess, i’ve been very lazy since i got over the initial flurry of unpacking, laundry and other settling back chores. i think it’s the heat – it’s been hotter in frankfurt (around 34c!) than it was in croatia and italy and sadly i don’t have a swimming pool or beach easily to hand, to help me cool off.

instead i’ve been drinking lots of water and eating strawberries. i bought too many strawberries though and so i needed a plan to help use some up. sorbet or granita was an obvious thought but something reminded me about shrubs, so i thought i’d try something new.

in this context a shrub is a drink that is made with fruit, sugar and vinegar. there are lots of variations, with some recipes using fruit juice in place of the vinegar as well as versions made with alcohol. hard-core shrubbers often make their own vinegar for the shrub, relying on wild yeasts on the fruit or in the air – it’s a fascinating thing to learn about!

however, it was the simple vinegar version that intrigued me – the aim is to create a drink that is a balance of sweet and sharp flavours, with the fruit acting as the bridge between the two but also playing the starring role as far as flavour goes. this can then be used in cocktails or non-alcoholic drinks (topped with soda or sparkling water).

there are lots of different methods for making shrubs and i decided to avoid ones that boil the fruit and vinegar together (too hot in this weather!) as i had read that the cold-process is better at retaining the fresh fruit flavour, which is what i wanted from my strawberries. in this method, the fruit and sugar are mixed together and set aside until the fruit juices are drawn out and a fruity syrup created (48 hours in the fridge was all that was needed). this is then mixed with the vinegar and put in the fridge.

apparently the flavour mellows and balances over the space of a couple of weeks. i mixed my fruit and vinegar together and tasted it straightaway – definitely vinegary and not particularly pleasant – and then again a few hours later when i bottled it, and there was already a softening of the vinegar tang. i can’t wait to see what it’s like in a couple of weeks!

strawberry shrub – cold-process (makes c700ml)

mix together 350g quartered strawberries with 250g sugar - i used white sugar to help keep the strawberry flavour as clean as possible, but you can use other golden or brown sugars if you want to a different result. the ratio of fruit:sugar is also something you can vary – some recipes use a 1:1 ratio, other suggest using less sugar - i decided to make a less sweet version, although at this stage i don’t know if that was a wise decision or not!

mix the strawberries and sugar together and set aside, in the fridge, for 24-48 hours until the fruit has released its juices and a syrup has been created. the fruit should be swimming in liquid – i ended up with around 350ml.

strain the liquid using a sieve, pressing down gently on the fruit to release any leftover juices (you can use a muslin if you want to remove all of the little strawberry seeds/hairs). there will probably be some undissolved sugar at the bottom of the dish – this is fine, just add it to your strained syrup.

add 350ml vinegar to the syrup and mix well. i used white wine vinegar - again there is a lot of variation in what people prefer, with cider vinegar and balsamic both being suggested as options which add a particular depth of flavour. mix well, place in a bottle or lidded jar and set aside in the fridge for a couple of weeks, shaking regularly if you have undissolved sugar.

here are some ideas for how to use the shrub, plus more info about hot and cold process methods.